Bulls poised to hire Collins as coach

Updated: May 30, 2008, 12:59 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The team that gave Doug Collins his first coaching job is on the verge of luring Collins back to the bench one more time.

Numerous Chicago media outlets reported Thursday that the Chicago Bulls will soon announce that Collins is leaving his successful television career to be the Bulls' new coach. Multiple sources close to the situation confirmed those reports to ESPN.

Earlier this month, when linked to the Phoenix Suns' opening, Collins emphatically told ESPN.com that he had "no interest" in coaching again.

Yet it appears that Collins' close relationships with Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and owner Jerry Reinsdorf have led to an abrupt change of heart, enabling Chicago to continue its dramatic recovery from the disappointment of losing out to the New York Knicks in the race to hire Mike D'Antoni with a proven NBA winner. Last week, Chicago won the NBA's draft lottery despite posting the league's ninth-worst record this season.

During a pregame interview on TNT, Collins said he talked with both Paxson and Jerry Reinsdorf.

"I have not been offered. I have not accepted," Collins said.

"Jerry Reinsdorf has been a friend of mine the last 20 years so he and I have spoken on a lot of occasions over the last 20 years. … the whole thing is there's interest on both sides."

Collins added that as soon as the Western Conference finals were over: "We've agreed to sit down and talk to see exactly what is there."

Paxson insisted in a statement released Thursday afternoon that the sides have not finalized a deal, but it's believed that the team and Collins are merely waiting for the end of the Western Conference finals to make Collins' hiring official.

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"I have been in contact with Doug Collins in regard to our head-coaching position," Paxson said. "Contrary to some reports that are currently out there, we have not reached an agreement. Right now, his commitment is covering the Western Conference finals for TNT. When that series concludes, we will continue our dialogue. In the meantime, I will continue to talk to other candidates and review our options."

Through a TNT spokesman, Collins said earlier Thursday, "I have spoken with Bulls management recently about their head-coaching vacancy and will resume conversations after the conclusion of my work for TNT in the Western Conference finals. There is no agreement in place."

Collins last coached in 2001-02 with the Washington Wizards. He has a career record of 332-287 in stints with Washington, Detroit and Chicago, including a 15-23 record in the postseason.

Collins was Michael Jordan's third coach in Chicago but was fired by the Bulls in 1989 despite leading them to the Eastern Conference finals. Collins was replaced by Phil Jackson, who went on to lead Chicago to six NBA titles in a span of nine seasons.

Collins had a 137-109 record during his first stint with the Bulls, going 40-42 in his first season when they were swept in the first round by Boston.

Chicago was 50-32 the next year but lost to the Pistons in five games in the conference semifinals. The Bulls were 47-35 the next season but again were eliminated by Detroit, this time in six games in the conference finals.

When he took the Wizards' job in 2001, Collins acknowledged that he and Jordan did not always get along during those formative years in Chicago.

"We knocked heads early," Collins said at the time. "I was 35, had never been a head coach before, was going to roll up my sleeves to show everybody that I could get the job done. I wanted to do things my way."

Mr. Fix It

Doug Collins can turn around a team quickly. In each of his three previous stops, the team he has taken over has seen an immediate improvement.

Team Win increase
Bulls +10
Pistons +18
Wizards +18

Collins accepted his second head-coaching job in 1995 and worked 2½ seasons with the Pistons, going 46-36, 54-28 and 21-24 before he was let go amid reports his style caused friction with some of his players.

He was 37-45 in both seasons in Washington and couldn't get the Wizards into the playoffs. He was fired shortly after Jordan was denied a return to the front office.

Collins is widely regarded as a top teacher of the game, which has obvious appeal to the Bulls given the young nature of their roster and the forthcoming arrival of the No. 1 overall pick in the June 26 draft.

Chicago is coming off a season fraught with problems that included players missing practices and having angry exchanges with coaches. Joakim Noah, last year's first-round pick, was recently arrested in Gainesville, Fla., for having an open container of alcohol and was also charged with marijuana possession.

Yet Collins and the Bulls will inevitably have to answer questions about the 56-year-old coping again with the NBA coaching grind after Collins recently spoke out so strongly against the idea.

"I consider it a compliment when people mention me, but I just love my life now," Collins told ESPN.com on May 7. "The work that has to be done and the headaches you have to put up with today, I'm not willing to pay that price. It's just too tough.

"I get a chance to see my children now and my grandchildren. I've probably given up the competitive side of myself, but it's such a tough ride and tough grind unless you have the [clout] of someone like Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich or Jerry Sloan."

But Collins said Thursday he decided to explore the job after getting the go-ahead and encouragement from his son Chris, who is an assistant coach at Duke.

"Chris has always been the reluctant one. He basically really gave me the real freedom to explore opportunities that maybe I hadn't done over the last five years," Collins said.

It was initially assumed that the Suns would have the best chance of luring Collins out of the TV booth, since he lives in the Phoenix area and Suns president Steve Kerr is a former TNT colleague. But Collins is an Illinois native who starred at Illinois State, which conceivably made the Bulls' job even more attractive.

Earlier this season, Collins turned down an offer from the Milwaukee Bucks, who also tried in the summer of 2005 to hire him as coach.

The Bulls are coming off a disastrous 33-49 season after many experts had pegged them as a preseason favorite in the Eastern Conference. Scott Skiles was fired on Christmas Eve and interim coach Jim Boylan was dismissed shortly after the season ended.

D'Antoni was the Bulls' top choice to replace Boylan, but Paxson has conducted numerous interviews in the past six weeks. Candidates he is known to have interviewed include ESPN/ABC analyst Mark Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers assistant coaches Brian Shaw and Kurt Rambis, Utah Jazz assistant Tyrone Corbin, Sacramento Kings assistant Chuck Person, Jazz special assistant Jeff Hornacek and former Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Dwane Casey, who has a standing offer to join Rick Carlisle's new staff in Dallas if he doesn't land a head-coaching job.

Collins played at Illinois State and was the No. 1 pick of the 1973 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, where he was a teammate of Julius Erving and helped the team make the NBA Finals in 1977. He played eight seasons in the NBA, averaging 17.9 points per game. He was also a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic team that was beaten by the Soviet Union in a controversial finish at the Munich Games.

Information from ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein was used in this report.

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